Unmasking Partisanship: How Polarization Influences Public Responses to Collective Risk

16 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2020

See all articles by Maria Milosh

Maria Milosh

University of Chicago - Becker Friedman Institute for Economics

Marcus Painter

Saint Louis University - Department of Finance

David Van Dijcke

University of Oxford - Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School, Students; University of Oxford - Department of Economics

Austin L. Wright

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy

Date Written: July 31, 2020

Abstract

Political polarization and competing narratives can undermine public policy implementation. Partisanship may play a particularly important role in shaping heterogeneous responses to collective risk during periods of crisis when political agents manipulate signals received by the public (i.e., alternative facts). We study these dynamics in the United States, focusing on how partisanship has influenced the use of face masks to stem the spread of COVID-19. Using a wealth of micro-level data, machine learning approaches, and a novel quasi-experimental design, we document four facts:

(1) mask use is robustly correlated with partisanship;

(2) the impact of partisanship on mask use is not offset by local policy interventions;

(3) partisanship is the single most important predictor of local mask use, not COVID severity or local policies;

(4) Trump’s unexpected mask use at Walter Reed on July 11, 2020 significantly increased social media engagement with and positive sentiment towards mask-related topics.

These results unmask how partisanship undermines effective public responses to collective risk and how messaging by political agents can increase public engagement with mask use.

Keywords: COVID-19, mask mandates, partisanship

JEL Classification: H12, I18

Suggested Citation

Milosh, Maria and Painter, Marcus and Van Dijcke, David and Wright, Austin L., Unmasking Partisanship: How Polarization Influences Public Responses to Collective Risk (July 31, 2020). University of Chicago, Becker Friedman Institute for Economics Working Paper No. 2020-102, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3664779 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3664779

Maria Milosh

University of Chicago - Becker Friedman Institute for Economics ( email )

Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Marcus Painter

Saint Louis University - Department of Finance ( email )

Saint Louis, MO
United States

David Van Dijcke

University of Oxford - Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School, Students ( email )

Oxford
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.inet.ox.ac.uk/people/david-van-dijcke/

University of Oxford - Department of Economics ( email )

10 Manor Rd
Oxford, OX1 3UQ
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.economics.ox.ac.uk/graduate-students/david-van-dijcke

Austin L. Wright (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.austinlwright.com

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